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When Readers Vote with Mice, Can Words Win?

by Laura Fillmore

Presented to the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division
of the AAP Annual Conference
Washington, DC
March 9, 1995

Copyright © 1995 by Laura Fillmore; written permission required to reprint.

Those who want to play a determining role in developing and deploying the commercial online thought systems of tomorrow, are doing innovative, "distributive" online publishing today; they are not waiting for new and protective "technology to evolve." If online publishing is to succeed as an extension of traditional book and journal publishing, then at this point it is our imaginations that have to evolve, and not necessarily the technologies of the Internet itself. The necessary tools are here now for the using; the harder problem involves discovering the publishing models that enable readers to participate in written texts both as readers and as reader/authors whose digitized thought patterns might influence how others perceive and think about the published work.

Today, publishing on the Internet represents literacy's best hope, and publishers might want to respond creatively, and with some urgency, to this challenge. Will the words suffer when suddenly, everything is kinetic? When all is chunked-up and hyper, will words be seen as flat and boring? Have you heard the term "static text" lately, or "linear" pronounced with a sneer? The business of communicating person-to-person through abstract symbols of thought, written words, the business of 500 years of print publishing--how does can publishers make these written words come alive by using the Internet?

If in an internetworked environment, it's no longer primarily copies of things that are the basis for business transactions, what then is for sale? How is worth determined? To discover these evolving values, do we learn better from building abstract models, or from giving online readers what they ask for now, inventing viable print/disk/online hybrids that can be marketed today, and developing charging models in response to what the readers demonstrate (through their use patterns) that they want. If traditional print publishers--rather than telcos or computer companies or other interested parties--are to play a determining role in the development and implementation of a vital, worldwide electronic publishing system, a reader-driven system which enables people to pay for access to a kinetic process of collective thinking, then print publishers must do more than wait and meet and study and attempt to retrofit old paper models into the distributed network.

Net citizens vote with their mice; rather than scrolling through today's pallid fare of alpha-order catalogs and marketing blurbs, they'll seek out the pulsating icons of whomever assumes the new mantle of "online publisher", pureveyor of real-time experience. As gatekeepers of our recorded literary culture, print publishers stand in the best position to appreciate the possibilities, both ethical and commercial, and to determine the structure and function of this kinetic knowledge system. However, they will not long serve who only stand and wait for "the technology to evolve."

Copyright © 1995 by Laura Fillmore; written permission required to reprint.

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